One might liken that tying a gag over someones mouth! In a recent dialogue with Minister Mentor Lee (Friday, October 5th, 2007 Singapore: From Arts to censorship), students posted the view on the natural contradiction in censorship codes and Singapores efforts to promote artistic expression. MM Lee answered simply by suggesting that artists can find expression through many other areas without crossing the red tape. An individuals rights end when they impinge on the safety and rights of others.
By enacting laws against pornography and other deviant sexual practices, we have accepted that freedom of expression should have limits. In addition, art, like any other form of free expression, should be subject to the same restrictions on an individuals freedom of expression. To create a legal loophole for content such as racially intolerant speech, which could then seek protection on the grounds that it was a form of art. Other content such as race, religion, violence, coarse language, nudity, homosexuality are less clear cut.
However can one say that so long as no illegal acts were committed in the creative process, the public should have a choice in deciding whether to view the resulting content? In recent years (2002-2007) the level of Arts activities in Singapore has gone up. We have many more events in our annual Arts calendar, higher enrolments in our arts schools, larger number of Singaporeans who make the Arts a career or serious hobby.
At the advent of Singapores Art scene in 2002, Mr David T E Lim, Acting minister for Information, Communications and the Arts. 13 April 2002; 2:35PM) stated the 3 core factors in shaping censorship locally; namely a Multi-racial society, Globalisation, and technological advancements. He argues that due to our geographical and historical context we are constrained to keep the peace and social harmony first over assertion of rights.
One might argue from a point that one who pleases all pleases none at all. Global influence, although with its economic merits might introduce ideas that would destabilize our society or introduce divisive elements, hence the need to filter such influences to suit the maturity of the country.
The onslaught of technology has enabled us to command information at our fingertips, hence making it a near impossible task to keep track of; thus undermining controls and safeguards society has in place. In summary, his views (the government views) the resultant stifling of free expression outweighs the potential for exposure to unacceptable material. Censorship, even when age rating systems are used, is a very blunt tool. It takes no account of the differing standards of education or maturity between children and youths, or the varying attitudes towards parenting in different households.
By imposing an external standard of censorship, the government is depriving parents of the right to raise their children in a manner that they see fit. We lose the element of parental discretion, which is arguably part of the right to lead a private family life as one sees fit a right that is enshrined in many international human rights conventions. The European convention of Human rights, article 8 states that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
Looking at adults, one can see that they have the right to vote, bear arms, & die for the country. Why should they be the deprived of the ability to decide what they wish to see, or what their children should be allowed to watch? Lastly, we should note that people are not being forced to view artwork at gunpoint. Every member of the public has the right to avert their eyes & not look at art that offends them. Similarly, they can refrain from entering a gallery with an exhibition of offensive works. The risks of stifling free expression far outweigh the potential for unacceptable material.
Content which we consider perfectly acceptable today would have been regarded as taboo 50 years ago. In the report of the Censorship Review Committee of 2003, it was noted that the report was kept relevant against the backdrop of our social evolution and changing global landscape while understanding the need to fan the creative flames of the new generation and to accommodate the diversity of views. The social glue that bonds our society was not to be compromised, namely Singapores core values, identity, shared memories, religious and racial harmony.
But the question one has to ask would be, are these changes coming fast enough to cope with the blooming arts scene here, or is it a tightening noose fighting progress and growth? The report declares that censorship is not just about classification, or access control; nor is it simply about liberalisation or tightening up. Censorship is multi-dimensional, relating media and artistic expression to the social values of community. (Part IV, 9. 0, Conclusion, pg 71) I beg to differ.